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Bridging the Gap Between Math and Art [Slide Show]

Annual conference shines a spotlight on mathematical art and artistic mathematics



Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine

Every year mathematicians and artists converge for the conference Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science, a festival celebrating the links between mathematics and the arts. The Bridges Organization was founded in 1998 under the leadership of Towson University mathematician Reza Sarhangi with the goal of promoting interdisciplinary work in mathematics and art.

"Mathematics in general is the study of patterns, structures, relationships," says George Hart, a mathematician, sculptor and founding board member of the Bridges Organization. "The same ways of thinking and looking for patterns can be applied to formal artwork. This year, the conference was held in late July at Towson University outside of Baltimore.

The conference included presentations on such diverse topics as the visualization of music, using Celtic artwork in the mathematics classroom and imaging negative-dimensional space. In addition, there were workshops on creating art and poetry using mathematics, a music night, experimental theater and poetry sessions, and a visual art gallery.

View a slide show of images from the Bridges 2012 Gallery.

Robert Fathauer has curated the Bridges art gallery many times, first in 2001 and continuously since 2004. Trained as an electrical engineer, he has worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is an artist as well. "It's really gratifying to see how much it's grown over the years," he says, "both in number of compositions and their quality." This year, the gallery showcased more than 100 artists from around the globe. "Bridges is bringing together people from different backgrounds," says Fathauer. Some are career mathematicians for whom art is a hobby whereas some are artists who use mathematical principles in their work.

Fathauer says that the mathematicians and artists often have different approaches and that they can inform one another. Mathematicians gravitate toward art with very "meaty" mathematical content whereas artists' work is often more accessible and aesthetically pleasing. He says that the annual art exhibit has pushed mathematicians to create more polished, professional art and has fostered collaborations between people interested in mathematics and art who would not have otherwise found one another.

David Chappell, a physicist whose composition, Meander #6, was displayed in the gallery, said in an e-mail, "I am new to the math–art world, but one of the things I was struck by at the conference was how much fun people seemed to be having by simply playing with mathematical ideas."

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